COVID-19, Housing, News, Policing, public health, race, What's Race Got To Do With It?

Experts: “There has to be a shift in how society functions” in wake of pandemic recovery, racial justice movements

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the U.S. economy — shuttering businesses, eliminating jobs and disrupting everything from education to the nation’s food supply chain. But it has been most devastating to Black Americans, who already face a host of historical economic and social disparities that have been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement even as the country continues to struggle with the worsening pandemic.

On Tuesday a panel of experts gathered by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, its Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise and the Institute of African American Research held a virtual discussion of the problems disproportionately facing Black people in the current environment — and possible solutions.

“Talk about us living in a very, very unique time,” said Majestic Lane, deputy chief of staff and chief equity officer for the city of Pittsburgh. “We’re living in essentially 1928, 1918 and 1968 all in the same year, which has never quite happened. How we respond to it is really important. For us, in looking at what’s happening in our community, what’s happened in terms of social unrest as a result of state sanctioned violence and what’s happening as a result of COVID and the impacts of the pandemic really are two sides of the same coin.”

Majestic Lane

The American system disrupted by both the pandemic and mass protests over police violence against Black people was designed to work exactly the way it was working, Lane said. In charting a ‘new normal’ the goal should not be to reconstruct that system, he said, but to address long-standing problems in a system that chose winners and losers based on a legacy of racist ideas and practices.

“There has to be a shift in how society functions,” Lane said.

In Pittsburgh, that’s meant examining very basic assumptions about policing, Lane said. The idea that not every 911 call means police should be sent to the scene may be new to some people, he said. But for those who understand how racist policies in everything from education and banking to health care can see how bringing police into over-policed communities every time there is something like a family argument will likely make situations more dangerous.

In the 2021 budget in Pittsburgh, the city is creating an office of Community Health and Safety. Working with non-profits, the community will work to minimize the presence of police in situations where trained social workers, psychologists or addiction specialists might be a better fit. People in the community who are already trusted and invested will also be utilized in getting to the roots of violent incidents, Lane said.

But there are broader structural challenges as well, Lane said — and they’ve been made even more apparent by the pandemic.

Black people in America have been systemically shut out of the building and maintaining of wealth since before the beginnings of the Republic, said Nikitra Bailey, executive vice president with the Center for Responsible Lending. The current health and financial crises are making that more apparent, she said — and call for a response that takes that into account.

Nikitra Bailey

“Our nation is facing a reckoning over structural racism,” Bailey said. “The inequality it has produced is being exacerbated by the coronavirus. The COVID-19 pandemic is both a profound public health crisis and an equally profound economic crisis. The virus has devastated families across the nation and has fallen disproportionately on Black families.”

“Systemic discrimination in the housing sector left Black families more vulnerable going into the 2008 housing crisis,” Bailey said. “And that crisis and the response to it left them worse off. This crisis has likewise hit Black families hardest again. And the response so far is not equitable nor is it sufficient.”

The COVID-19 crisis threatens to become a foreclosure crisis in which the Black community has not had the same opportunity to build up home ownership and home equity, Bailey said. They didn’t have the same economic cushion many white families did at the beginning of the pandemic.  That’s due to historical inequities, like Black families being shut out of New Deal programs that gave access to federally supported credit. Those programs led to an explosion of white homeownership, a swelling middle class and generational wealth for white families. Only about 2 percent of the loans available in that period benefitted Black families, she said.

Black families were making ground after the historic homeownership lows of the Great Recession, Bailey said — with Black homeownership reaching 44 percent. But the current COVID-related economic crisis means a tightening in the mortgage market that is requiring much higher down payments and higher credit scores for families to qualify for loans. That threatens to erase the gains of Black homeowners in the country, Bailey said.

Because of the historic and current-day process of racial redlining, most Black communities don’t have as much home equity, Bailey said — something many white homeowners can use to withstand tough economic periods.

For Black homeowners and Black renters (a disproportionately large population), the pandemic is leading to greater dangers.

“There are reports that one in five renters are saying they missed or deferred a rental payment in June, “We know 31 percent of Black renters are reporting this as well, which is twice the rate of white renters. And 13 percent of homeowners overall are saying they’ve needed to defer a mortgage payment and again 23 percent said they missed or deferred their payment, which is twice the rate of white homeowners.”

Congress needs to react accordingly, Bailey said. The CARES act had a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, she said, but that expired last week. With around 23 million families likely to fall behind on their rent, Black families will be hardest hit.

Housing is an important pillar of the overall economy, Bailey said — critical not just to those who are most impacted, but to the entire nation.

“We need the House’s bill, the HEROES act, to be passed in the Senate and we need the President to sign it immediately,” Bailey said. “There is $100 billion of rental assistance in the HEROES act. If that legislation moves, we know that this crisis can be averted. We also need the HEROES provisions around homeownership protection. There’s $75 billion in homeownership protections. We also need those protections to be enacted.”

But beyond those immediate treatments for immediate ills, Bailey said, there needs to be movement on longstanding inequities and systemic racism.

“What we need is a federally guaranteed restorative justice program,” Bailey said, whereby Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac take proactive action to increase Black homeownership and we enforce fair housing and fair lending laws already on the books.

“We have really effective tools in place,” Bailey said. “If we use them we can root out that discrimination that is dragging down the economy overall.”

Elon University, Policing, race

In Graham, hundreds of protesters demand removal of Confederate statue, sheriff’s resignation

Photo: Anton L. Delgado

Approximately 700 demonstrators wearing masks, waving flags and carrying signs returned to the Confederate monument in Alamance County during a “March for Justice & Community” on Saturday.

This was the first demonstration at the statue since a controversial protest ban — issued by the Graham City Council and enforced with the help of the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office — was lifted by a federal judge.

Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched down a 1.5-mile route that took them from Burlington to Graham, where they were met by counter-protesters.

Protesters called for removal of the Confederate statue, as well as the resignation of Sheriff Terry Johnson and the end to police brutality.

Justice 4 the Next Generation, Alamance Alliance for Justice and Alamance Agents for Change co-hosted the march, which featured a keynote address from the Rev. Greg Drumwright, a Burlington native and social justice activist.

“Everywhere Black people go, we are guilty,” Drumwright said. “It is time for this Confederate statue and all Confederate statues to come down, so we no longer feel guilty in our own homes.”

A series of speakers took to a stage temporarily set up in front of the Alamance County Historic Courthouse, to address a range of issues including the importance of voting, the symbolism of the statue, systemic racism in the education system and the continued struggle against police brutality.

The speakers competed with chants from a group of about 25 counter-protesters waving Confederate memorabilia and Trump 2020 flags.

Police formed a barrier between protesters, who were part of social justice groups, and counterprotesters, some of whom belonged to Neo-Confederate groups. (Photo: Anton L. Delgado)

Members of Alamance County Taking Back Alamance County, a neo-Confederate group, could be heard shouting “all lives matter,” “get out of our city” and “the statue’s never coming down.”

Law enforcement officers from several departments, including Burlington, Graham, Mebane, Gibsonville, Elon University, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, State Highway Patrol and the Sheriff’s Office, were at the protest.

Officers blocked adjacent streets, safeguarded public property — including the statue — and acted as a barrier between the two groups.

Johnson’s arrival at the protest was greeted with chants of “hey hey, ho ho, Sheriff Johnson’s got to go” by protesters and “one more term” by counter-protesters.

Wearing a bulletproof vest, Johnson spoke with both sides and encouraged members of the two groups to disperse after the end of the march’s official programming — roughly three hours after the protest began at noon.

The sheriff declined to comment on the calls for his resignation.

There was no violence during the protest, but at least one male Black Lives Matter activist was taken away in handcuffs by officers from the Gibsonville Police Department.

While this was the first protest in front of the Confederate statue since the lifting of the protest ban, it wasn’t the first protest of the week.

Protesters called for the resignation of Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson (center) because of his racist actions and statements. In 2012, the US Department of Justice found that the sheriff’s department, under Johnson’s command, engaged in racial profiling of Latinx people. (Photo: Anton L. Delgado)

On Thursday, Kennedy Boston, a sophomore at Elon University who was at Saturday’s march, co-organized a sit-in by the Sheriff’s Office — a five-minute walk from the statue.

On Friday, Graham Mayor Jerry Peterman declared an indefinite state of emergency for the city’s downtown area, which is where the Confederate monument is located. During the march, protesters were still able to walk just short of the statue, which was protected by a police blockade.

“With two protests in one week, I hope something changes,” Boston said. “I know Terry Johnson isn’t probably going to retire anytime soon and he’s not going to change his viewpoint in one week, but I hope seeing the movement will at least affect Graham in some way and maybe lead to the Confederate statue coming down.”

The NC News Intern Corps is a program of the NC Local News Workshop, funded by the North Carolina Local News Lab Fund and housed at Elon University’s School of Communications.

Education, Higher Ed, race, What's Race Got To Do With It?

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hamilton Hall may soon become Pauli Murray Hall

Weeks after UNC-Chapel Hill lifted its moratorium on the re-naming of buildings, Hamilton Hall may soon become Pauli Murray Hall.

This week the chairs of the school’s departments of History, Political Science, Sociology and the Peace, War and Defense Curriculum requested the change though the newly established Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward.

Photo courtesy of UNC-Chapel Hill Department of History

The building now known as Hamilton Hall is named for Joseph Grégoire de Roulhac Hamilton, a professor whose writings on the Civil War and reconstruction were nakedly white supremacist.

A passage from his 1914 book Reconstruction in North Carolina praises the Ku Klux Klan’s role in restoring government to the white race:

Called into existence by this state of affairs, the Ku Klux lifted the South from its slough of despond by the application of illegal force which overthrew Reconstruction and ultimately restored political power to the white race . . . Heart had been put into the despairing whites and a revolution had been wrought through its operations, or, to be more exact, the results of a revolution had been overthrown and a form of government, wickedly, illegally, and unconstitutionally imposed upon the people, had come into the hands of the class best fitted to administer government, and the supremacy of the white race and of Anglo-Saxon institutions was secure.”

Pauli Murray was a black descendent of one of the original UNC-Chapel Hill trustees, James Strudwick Smith. Denied admission to the school’s Ph.D program in sociology because of her race, she none-the-less went on to become an outspoken attorney, activist and scholar. She was also the first Black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest.

Pauli Murray, courtesy of The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe, Harvard University

“Our motivation for renaming the building is rooted in the history of our University and Professor Hamilton’s role in shaping it for the benefit of white supremacy,” the department heads wrote in a press release Friday. “Ample evidence of this history can be found in the brief submitted to us by our building-wide committee tasked with evaluating this decision.”

“Pauli Murray represents the immutable spirit of scholarship and public service, and she represents the forgone knowledge that UNC could have been a part of, could have supported and nurtured, and could have learned from,” the department heads wrote. “Naming our building after her will serve as a reminder of what was lost, what could have been, and what can be as we move forward.”

Courts & the Law, News, race

Senate GOP unveils police reform bill that draws Democratic rebukes

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) is joined by fellow Republican lawmakers for a news conference to unveil the GOP’s legislation to address racial disparities in law enforcement at the U.S. Capitol June 17, 2020. Scott, the Senate’s lone Black Republican, lead the effort to write the Just and Unifying Solutions to Invigorate Communities Everywhere (JUSTICE) Act. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans unveiled a police reform bill Wednesday that takes a markedly different approach to police reform efforts backed by congressional Democrats.

The Senate GOP bill would incentivize police departments to ban chokeholds, increase the use of body-worn cameras, improve training in de-escalation tactics and take prior records into greater account when making hiring decisions.

It would also increase data collection on the use of force, weapon discharge and no-knock warrants and make lynching a federal crime, among other things.

“When Black Americans tell us they do not feel safe in their own communities, we need to listen,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor Wednesday.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), however, called the GOP bill “inadequate” in a statement. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y) said the GOP approach “does not rise to the moment.”

“We have a tale of two chambers, a glaring contrast between a strong, comprehensive Democratic bill in the House, and a much narrower, and much less effective Republican bill in the Senate,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.

A ‘false, binary choice’

GOP Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina — a Black Republican who led the Senate GOP police reform effort — told reporters Wednesday that the bill aims to “restore confidence communities of color have in institutions of authority.”

Scott said Senate Republicans are listening to public concerns about law enforcement and noted that he has borne the brunt of racial profiling himself, such as when he was given a warning for failing to turn on a turn signal soon enough before changing lanes.

“We hear you,” he said.

But Scott also voiced strong support for law enforcement, saying the “overwhelming” number of officers are “good people” who work hard to keep communities safe and orderly.

Supporting either law enforcement or communities of color is a “false binary choice,” he said.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) co-sponsored the JUSTICE Act, praising its  ‘commonsense solutions’ for police reform.

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC)

“The vast majority of law enforcement officials in North Carolina and across the country were also sickened by the murder of George Floyd, and they need to be a critical part of the solution,” said Senator Tillis. “I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle commit to working with us to find consensus and advance this bill so we can make progress and help heal our country.”

Sen. McConnell accelerated the timetable for floor consideration and now plans to bring the GOP bill to the floor for a vote next week — roughly a month after the death of George Floyd while being arrested by a white Minneapolis police officer.

The Senate GOP bill differs in key ways from a Democratic police reform package introduced earlier this month. That bill would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants at the federal level and would address qualified immunity — an issue Scott called a “poison pill.”

The Democratic legislation would also bar racial and religious profiling, mandate police training in racial profiling and require state and local law enforcement agencies to report use-of-force data by race and other characteristics. And it would limit the transfer of military-grade equipment to state and local law enforcement officials.

The Senate GOP bill does not address racial profiling or the transfer of military equipment to police, Schumer said.

The U.S. House Judiciary Committee will mark up the Democratic measure Wednesday. It has more than 218 co-sponsors, virtually ensuring passage in the House chamber.

Scott said there is significant overlap between Democratic and Republican approaches to police reform and is working with Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a Black Democrat, on the issue.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would support congressional action on police reform.

Trump signed a modest police reform order Tuesday that strengthens efforts to track police misconduct and uses federal funds to encourage police departments to improve training and certification standards and to work with social workers and other “co-responders” when responding to calls involving homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse.

Under the order, the U.S. attorney general will require police credentialing agencies to confirm that departments bar chokeholds except when use of deadly force is permitted by law.

It’s unclear how the federal order will affect officers’ behavior as police departments generally fall under the purview of state and local governments, or what effect it may have on police reform legislation in Congress.

News, race

Charlotte Mayor: It’s time to be uncomfortable about race

As the public expresses outrage over the death of George Floyd and the weekend shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles writes that quick police reforms and hastily appointed task forces are not enough this time. We need to have uncomfortable discussions about race, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Here’s more from Mayor Lyles’ must-read op-ed that appeared Sunday in the Charlotte Observer:

Mayor Vi Lyles (Photo: Charlottenc.gov)

Growing up in South Carolina during the Civil Rights Movement, I am no stranger to racial injustice. I attended segregated schools. I was a toddler when Emmett Till was lynched. As a teen I witnessed the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

Though I knew I couldn’t completely escape racism and discrimination at the time, I hoped things would be better in a more progressive city, so I set my sights on Charlotte for college. I quickly learned the battle Black America fights daily wasn’t limited to just one place. As protests against racial injustice and police brutality engulf our country, I’m reminded this ongoing fight isn’t limited to a moment in time.

The eight minutes and 46 seconds that George Floyd was pinned down by the police was not much different than the events I lived through in the 1960s. It’s why the same anger that exists in Minneapolis exists in other large cities and rural towns. Downtown and suburbia. It exists in Charlotte.

We share in the outrage and anger, because in mourning the death of George Floyd, we mourn the deaths of Keith Lamont Scott, Johnathan Ferrell, and Danquirs Franklin. We say their names. We march. We seek answers to why Black men and women continue to die at the hands of police.

In response, we call for reforms and create task forces. We do workshops and implement de-escalation tactics. Yet, we fall back into the comfortable places we’ve grown to know. We fall back into a place where black parents continue to have the ‘talk’ with their children – as I have done – on how to get out of traffic stops alive. We stop questioning why many in the Black community continue to live in segregated neighborhoods and accept low-wage jobs without healthcare or childcare. Professionally, members of the Black community become comfortable taking jobs at publicly-traded companies that lack diversity in the boardroom and in the c-suite.

We can no longer allow ourselves to fall back into those comfortable spaces. We aren’t just at a breaking point for systemic racism, but also a breaking point for the systemic comfort that we’ve grown to know.

It’s time to remain uncomfortable. We need to have the uncomfortable discussions, be uncomfortable in our approaches, and embrace the uncomfortable because that is where growth and change live.

We need more than policy and training changes and youth programs. The issue with systemic racism isn’t just a policing issue. It is education, jobs, development, planning. A systemic issue needs a systemic response.

For the corporations who call Charlotte home, we don’t just need their funding and messages of support but need the diversity in their offices and on their leadership teams. The actions of leadership must reflect those statements of solidarity, particularly in their hiring, promotion and customer service practices. We need these organizations to change the systemic practice of only recruiting in the top 10 percent of colleges and universities, which eliminates talented Black students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, state schools and community colleges.

And for our faith community, we need your support more than ever. we need to discuss your ideas and have your congregations join us in this call to action.

As mayor, I will continue to listen. I want to have the uncomfortable conversations that matter so we have a united community vision for systemic change.

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